Big Finish: DraculaBookmark and Share

Monday, 30 May 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Dracula (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Bram Stoker, Dramatised by Jonathan Barnes

Directed by Scott Handcock

Cast: Mark Gatiss (Count Dracula), Deirdre Mullins (Mina Murray), Joseph Kloska (Jonathan Harker), Nigel Betts (Abraham Van Helsing), Rupert Young (John Seward), Alex Jordan (Arthur Holmwood), David Menkin (Quincey P. Morris), Rosanna Miles (Lucy Westenra), Elizabeth Morton (Mary Westenra), Ian Hallard (Renfield), Edward Petherbridge (Mr Swales), Katy Manning (Sister Agatha).

Big Finish Productions – Released May 2016

Listening to this audio adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, this reviewer, who has never read the book, was struck by how familiar so much of the text is and how profoundly it has seeped into contemporary culture. And yet to hear such familiar dialogue as “The children of the night, such sweet music they make” in its proper context shows that this is a story which remains as unsettling as ever despite the many variations which have appeared over the last 119 years, a true classic of the horror genre. Following on from their successful 2014 collaboration on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, writer Jonathan Barnes and Producer/Director Scott Handcock have once again teamed up to produce an adaptation which remains extremely faithful to the original novel with only occasional alterations made to allow for the expediency of the medium of audio drama. The original novels’ format of being presented as a collection of journal extracts and letters lends itself very well to adaptation with any new scenes added by Barnes slotting in so seamlessly that only those extremely familiar with the novel would recognise them.

The cast are all excellent. Mark Gatiss, who has presented programmes talking about his love of the character of Dracula in the novel and of the famous film portrayals of the Count by Lugosi and Lee amongst others, gives a perfectly judged performance which avoids the trap of overacting in the style of Bela Lugosi and instead allows the text to speak for itself in a confident understated manner. Also anyone fearing that this incarnation of the Count will sound like Gatiss’ portrayals of the Master in Sympathy for the Devil or even Mycroft from TV’s Sherlock need not worry as his deep-throated Transylvanian accent renders him almost unrecognisable. Joseph Kloska and Deirdre Mullins are well matched as Jonathan Harker and his betrothed Mina Murray with Mullins being given particular prominence as this adaptation chooses to make Mina much of a lead heroine than some previous versions have chosen to do. Kloska of course gets to narrate much of the famous opening chapters which see Harker arrive as unsuspecting guest of the mysterious Count in the heart of the superstitious horseshoe of the Carpathian region. They are well supported during the subsequent sections by the three suitors of Rosanna Miles’ Lucy Westenra in the form of Dr John Seward (Rupert Young), the Hon. Arthur Holmwood (Alex Jordan), and the brash American Quincey P. Morris played by David Menkin. These three eventually join forces with Nigel Betts’ (again not too overplayed) Professor Van Helsing to form an enjoyable ‘Scooby gang’ of investigators as the curse of the vampire spreads to England’s shores. The remaining cast includes Ian Hallard, who gives a sympathetic portrayal of Renfield, Edward Petherbridge in a brief but enjoyable turn as Mr Swales, and a convincing performance from Katy Manning who is entirely unrecognisable from her usual self as Sister Agatha.

The production is well supported by James Dunlop’s score, especially the discordant opening theme which will surprise on first listening but gains much with repeated hearing. Extracts from the score are included on the extras disc whose cast interview section will be of particular interest to Dracula aficionados.

Overall then, an excellent addition to the Big Finish Classics range which may well encourage listeners to explore Barnes’ contributions to the Big Finish Sherlock Holmes range including the forthcoming release The Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes. Meanwhile, the Big Finish Classics range will continue next year with an audio version of Nicholas Briggs’ current stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.